Seaplane service to Chelan in danger for 2017 By richard uhlhorn

Chelan Seaplanes Dehavilland Beaver lands at Stehekin. Photo by Richard Uhlhorn

The Dehavilland Beaver operated by Chelan Seaplanes operates between Chelan and Stehekin. Chelan Seaplanes purchased Chelan Airways in 2009 after the Airways had operated on the lake for 42 years.

Chelan Seaplanes offers direct flights into Stehekin from Chelan. In addition the business offers sight-seeing tours of the North Cascades, fly fishing tours and winery tours.
At Stehekin Landing. Photo by Billy Sullivan
Christy Nielson Photo from a Chelan Seaplane scenic flight from Stehekin.
The gateway to the Cascades National Park is a 25 minute flight from Chelan by Chelan Seaplanes. Photo by Christy Nielson

These two images of the North Cascades were taken by Christy Nielson on a sight-seeing tour in October, 2016.

The chances of Chelan Seaplanes operating on the lake this summer grow dimmer and dimmer as Shane Carlson, owner of Northwest Seaplanes tries to secure permits to operate on the east finger of Goodfellow Brother’s Three Fingers.

While Carlson is still optimistic about his chances of returning seaplane service to Lake Chelan this year, there is still a lot of red tape to work through.

Chelan Seaplanes lost its lease at the Green property last year and has been desperately seeking a new location. After a meeting with the public and agencies at Chelan City Hall last Fall, it was noted that everyone wanted the iconic service to remain in operation on the lake.

Shane Carlson at Chelan City Councill meeting

As a result of that meeting the Three Finger site owned by Goodfellow Brothers (GBI) was suggested and eventually offered as a two year temporary spot while Carlson looked for a more permanent site on the lake. Unfortunately, permitting by the City of Chelan, WSDOT, Corps of Engineers and Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife and Department of Ecology is, or could be a long term process for 2017 operations.

Richard Uhlhorn photos

The city’s new Shoreline Management Plan spells out certain requirements that might prove too expensive or cumbersome for Carlson’s timeline.

City Planner Craig Gildroy stated that the City is interested in seeing the service continue on the lake, but, “We are not going to treat him any differently than anyone else. We can’t!” Gildroy also said the City has and continues to find a solution for the iconic service.

However, under the City’s new Shoreline Management Plan, if Carlson wants parking space on the east finger for anything over 10 vehicles, then the City will require a hard surface and a stormwater system constructed

In a telephone conversation with Malcolm Keithley of ‘All Things Stehekin’ and ‘All Things Lake Chelan,’ Carlson said, “There is lots of red tape from all different angles.”

He also named the Chelan Basin Conservancy’s lawsuit to have the Three Fingers removed. GBI's appeal to that decision will be heard in King County Superior Court at the end of February. If the Superior Court upholds the lower court’s ruling to remove the Three Fingers, the use of the east finger for a base becomes mute, “Even if they give me any sort of latitude on any of their requirements, the cost of stormwater, lake shore requirements, an office foundation and all the utilities there is nothing that would pencil out,” said Carlson.

Couple that with trying to get a permits from the DOT, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Ecology in a timely manner and the chances diminish quickly. “All the planets need alignment,” said Carlson.

The City offered up space at Don Morse Park, but won’t allow fuel for refueling and Carlson refuels his Beaver after each flight, which leaves the Three Fingers as the only current option.

Carlson told Keithley that Chelan Seaplanes has one other option, but that hasn’t materialized yet, so he can’t discuss it.

360 Degree photo by Timothy Oldfield, WashingtonState360 photographer. Click link below to view.

Seaplane service to Stehekin is an important transportation need for many travelers, both business and pleasure. It is a quick way to access the upper region of the lake and if Chelan Seaplanes is unable to make it work this coming summer, travelers will be stuck taking the Lady of the Lake or Lady Express to the head of the lake or trying to schedule air time with the busy Lake Chelan Helicopters.

Dale England, who operates the business said he could offer service to Stehekin, but that it isn’t his business model’s niche. “We can land at the ranch (Stehekin Valley Ranch), but we would not be able to provide the same service that Chelan Seaplanes provides.”

Besides, England has contracts to dry cherries in June and July and has a busy tourist business also, might not be able to schedule a flight in. “We would not be able to take large items like the Beaver can either.”

“I think it is a necessary service they need to figure out,” said England. His estimated cost to fly someone into Stehekin would be $130 per person each way. “I think the plane is a lot more economical than a helicopter.”

The only other option would be if the National Park Service would allow commercial flights into the Stehekin airfield and someone willing to provide that service from the Chelan Airport.

For the sake of air travel to Stehekin, we can all hope the planets do line up for Shane Carlson and the beautiful yellow/orange Beaver is back in the sky over Lake Chelan this coming summer.

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Malcolm Keithley
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